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Captain's Log

November 17, 2011

Over the past year, a great disquiet has swept across the face of Saturn. The normally serene countenance of this giant planet was pierced last December by the sudden eruption of a bright, discrete, and powerful convecting storm that over the course of two months grew and spread to become a planet-encircling colossus, a wide kaleidoscopic band of commingled waves, vortices, and eddies, all in continuous swirling motion .... a mesmerizing display of snaking, sensuous, churning, turning, chaotic, roiling atmospheric turmoil.

Outbursts like this are not new to Saturn and, in fact, are known for their episodic behavior. The largest of these appear every 20 to 30 years in the northern hemisphere and spread completely around the planet. But this one is different. With a 200-day interval of intense, hissing convection, it holds the record as the longest-lasting Saturn-encircling storm ever. And it has become the largest by far ever observed on the planet by an interplanetary spacecraft, giving us an unparalleled opportunity to study in great depth the subtle changes on the planet that preceded the storm's formation and the mechanisms involved in its development.

It was an opportunity we did not miss. Since first sighting this monster tempest in early December, the imaging team has been systematically recording the tumultuous changes in the planet's appearance. As a consequence, we have now amassed a month-by-month visual chronicle of its development and evolution. And by acquiring images in a variety of spectral filters, we can separate the changes that occur at any one altitude from those that occur at another. What results is the sublime visual extravaganza that appears on these pages today.

It is the singular distinction of being in orbit, and able to turn a scrutinizing eye wherever it is needed, that has allowed us to be present to witness this extraordinary phenomenon. Seven years of chasing such opportunities across the solar system's most magnificent planetary system have already made Cassini one of the most scientifically productive planetary missions ever flown. And with any luck, there'll be a great deal more to come.

Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
Director, CICLOPS
Boulder, CO



More Captain's Logs

Alliance Member Comments
Christine (Apr 23, 2012 at 6:50 AM):
Hello, can you tell us is there still storm on Saturn now?
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Apr 21, 2012 at 1:49 PM):
rem547: Patience! I'm working on an Enceladus paper as I write. I can promise: it will be fabulous and exciting and significant. Good enough for ya!?
rem547 (Apr 19, 2012 at 10:33 AM):
So When are we going to see some new reports on the recent Enceladus flybys? What are you finding out there in those plumes? It is so fascinating and I applaud the awesome job you are all doing!
sunwell (Apr 15, 2012 at 8:22 AM):
I'm come in.And stay forcused
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Apr 11, 2012 at 4:16 PM):
Je3ro: Ha! Glad you like our Golf Game. You came up with some great suggestions. Maybe we'll give those a try! Thanks.
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Apr 11, 2012 at 4:16 PM):
Je3ro: Ha! Glad you like our Golf Game. You came up with some great suggestions. Maybe we'll give those a try! Thanks.
Je3ro (Apr 7, 2012 at 6:51 AM):
Could I get a DATE with Carolyn? "She MUST be a fun person!" This game is great! Would be funny to have the golf ball accidentally hit a UFO. or maybe the UFO shoots the ball out of the sky if you hit the ball in the wrong direction or too high or something. Great Job!!!
Lee (Mar 15, 2012 at 10:23 PM):
Congratulations on the Smithsonian's Trophy for Current Acievement. You've done marvelous and inspiring work.
stargazer2012 (Mar 7, 2012 at 4:24 PM):
awesome pictures great information great JOB.
stargazer2012 (Mar 7, 2012 at 4:20 PM):
thankyou!#1 CICOPS TEAM... FOR THE OUTSTANDING WORK ;AND KEEPING US INFORMED ON SATURNS'ACTIVTIES[ QUITE A BEAUTY..]
mafted (Feb 24, 2012 at 12:41 PM):
I'd just like to know how the hexagon formed on Saturn's north pole. I suppose it's a natural shape (with light..), but idk?
GorT> (Feb 7, 2012 at 10:10 PM):
Carolyn,
What say you of the interior...? It looks spooky, like you could hide something in there...But not too far, you'd run into H2 precip. I can't even imagine being able to view liquid H2 on that scale...By the way

Thank You
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Feb 6, 2012 at 1:48 PM):
GorT: The ring particles are mostly water ice, w/ some very small percentage by mass of impurities, like silicates, Fe, etc.
GorT> (Feb 5, 2012 at 9:57 PM):
Carolyn,
What are the spetrometer readings for the rings...Are they gold, platinum, maybe rhodium...Because I've been privy to pictures of cigar shaped spacecraft mining Saturn's rings. I mean they're just rocks, right?
Phyto (Dec 27, 2011 at 11:55 PM):
I enjoy the view, but I'm confused. The illumination angle seems to off between the pairs of objects. In the shot of Titan with the ring shadows prominent, the illumination of Titan appears no more than 10 degrees above the horizontal of the image. However, the ring shadows seem to suggest a much higher illumination angle since they are so far below the edge-on view of the rings. Is this an optical illusion?
Amythest (Dec 22, 2011 at 10:37 PM):
Really cool pics....one of my three favorite planets
NeKto (Nov 28, 2011 at 1:11 PM):
Carolyn, i am glad to see there is enough data about this storm to suport a paper. i look forward to seeing it published!
i agree that pattience is nessesary in scientific investigation, but i believe that scientists should never be so patient that they hesitate to ask good questions.
the work that the whole team has shared with us here proves you have been asking great questions. the proof is, the results have led to many more great questions.
my exprience is the best science produces answers that generate exponentially more questions than were asked in the first place.
thanks for sharing, Team!
Pasargadian1 (Nov 26, 2011 at 11:58 AM):
Hi,I 'm so happy because I am astronomy lover,like you.
Soheil Salimi.
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Nov 20, 2011 at 4:10 PM):
Everyone: There is in fact a paper about this storm that a small group of us imaging team members have written. It has just been submitted, and so now we sit and wait for the review process and hopefully publication. We can't yet answer some of your more detailed questions. But know that this discovery and the opportunity it presents will be receiving a lot of attention over the coming months and years. Scientific investigation requires a certain suite of skills and traits, and patience is one of them! In the meantime, thanks much for your appreciation of our work. I really wanted to make this release special, and I'm happy that it has been so well received. Best to all of you!
Jay55 (Nov 20, 2011 at 3:54 PM):
Whoa! Absolutely amazing stuff. Many thanks to you Carolyn and your team for presenting us with such spectacular images. i am looking forward to hearing about what they all mean in the coming weeks and months. is there a paper coming?
manuelgis (Nov 20, 2011 at 9:30 AM):
thanks you show us something wonderfull!!!
umpireplb (Nov 19, 2011 at 8:08 PM):
Things here on Planet Earth may be falling apart at the seams, but these gorgeous images of the chaos transforming Saturn's landscape make what's happening down here seem very insignificant in a cosmic and soul-stirring kind of way. Thank you, Captain Porco and the crew!
NeKto (Nov 18, 2011 at 11:28 AM):
Captain, you folks on the team do great work.
BlindStevie (Nov 18, 2011 at 9:44 AM):
CICLOPS Team,

The northern hemisphere storm images are spactacular.

BlindStevie
BlindStevie (Nov 18, 2011 at 9:43 AM):
CICLOPS Team,

You folks are the front line in man's effort to understand the solar system. Press on with PRIDE!

BlindStevie

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